There Is One Body and One Spirit: 7. The Lord's Supper

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The Apostle Paul received a special revelation with respect to the Lord’s Supper. He was the vessel chosen of God to reveal to us the mystery of Christ and the Church. He alone of all the sacred writers speaks of the body of Christ. We read in 1 Corinthians 10:16,1716The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? 17For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread. (1 Corinthians 10:16‑17), “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? the bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? for we, being many, are one bread, one body; for we are all partakers of that one bread” (or rather “loaf”). Here we learn that the Lord’s table is the expression of the communion of the body of Christ. (Of course we speak of it now as the Lord’s table in the truth of the divine revelation concerning it.) There is immense importance in this truth. Because we learn that although the professing church has distorted the Lord’s Supper into a means of grace, and a life-giving sacrament, and a fresh sacrifice, in fact almost everything but what it is, still, if the Lord’s table is spread according to God’s mind, it expresses the communion of the one body of Christ, which is here in the world.
Now, if only two or three Christians in a place are gathered together on the ground of the one body of Christ, by one Spirit, to eat the Lord’s Supper, they are a true, even though feeble, expression of the one body. It is as in the communion of the one body, they break the one loaf, which is the symbol of the fellowship of the one body.
Many have thought that they could now come together as individuals merely, to break bread. But such a ground is unknown in Scripture, since the revelation of the truth concerning the Church of God, through the Apostle Paul. The ground of the unity of the Spirit of God in the body of Christ is the only one we can take, except in ignorance or in disobedience to the revealed will of God. I must either own what I know to be here — to exist in the world — as a fact, that is, the one body of Christ, formed by the one Spirit of God; or I must disown it, which is indeed a very solemn matter. Coming together as disciples has been done in ignorance of these divine principles; and the Lord is very gracious and patient with us, in waiting upon us in our slowness to learn His mind. But when I learn the truth, and have my understanding opened to see what I am before God, a member of the body, by one Spirit, it is not taking up new ground in our mode of meeting together; but rather defining in its full sense what we really are, and discovering with this, all the responsibilities attaching to such a wonderful truth. I learn my responsibility to Christ the Head, and towards every member of His body on earth — I learn my deep responsibility to own and recognize all others who are thus owning and acting upon (however weakly it may be) the grand truth of one body, by one Spirit. It gives me a divine resting-place for my feet in the midst of the confusion of the great house of Christendom; a reality which will keep my soul steady in the midst of every ruin. It is the only thing which can do this. Coming together as individual Christians merely to break bread, is simply impossible. If done in ignorance, well — but with the knowledge of this unity, to do so would be the disowning of God’s highest truth.
It has been thought that now in the ruin of the church, the only thing we can do is to hold the Head (Col. 2:1919And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God. (Colossians 2:19)) as individuals. But to suppose that we can hold the Head, and disown in practice that we are members of the body of which Christ is Head, is mischievous. A member of Christ has a Head in heaven, as a member of a body of which Christ is the Head. If I had a Head merely as an individual, I should have a head without a body, or one member would be the body. This demonstrates the inconsistency. Body and Head are correlatives — while Lord and Servant are also correlatives and individual. We are to hold the Head, but it is as members of His body, by the Holy Spirit uniting us to Him, we are to do so. “Not holding the Head, from which the whole body, by joints and bands, having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God” (Col. 2:1919And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God. (Colossians 2:19)).
How far from re-constructing anything is all this; for the body of Christ does not want re-construction from my hands. The Spirit of God constitutes it, by His presence and baptism, and its unity has never failed. I therefore merely own in practice what I know to be here in fact, but I cannot do it as an individual where there are other members of the body of Christ. Both must be together if grace is given for it, as the body, that is, on the ground and principle of it. Besides all this, our being together, and our owning this, do not pretend to manifest anything. This would be towards the world. I seek not to manifest, but to express what I am in common with all the other members —the body of Christ — in the symbol of its unity, the breaking of one loaf.
Before closing, I would revert to one further matter of much importance, as to seek to act upon it has been stated to be an impossibility; and not only so, but a denial of the ruin of the professing church. I mean the divine competency of the saints to carry out the discipline of the assembly; or to keep outside everything not of the Spirit of God. I feel quite sure that the carrying out of the discipline of the assembly, in putting out from its midst, will be, nay, should be resorted to as the very last extremity, when grace exercised to the uttermost has failed, and when it has become a question of the assembly accepting the evil as its own, or clearing itself from it. I would add, too, that of this I am sure, that where the Spirit of God is ungrieved and unhindered in an assembly, the evil will not remain long undiscovered, or in the midst.
We read, “What have I to do to judge them also that are without? Do not ye judge them also that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore, put away from amongst you that wicked person (1 Cor. 5:12, 1312For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? 13But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person. (1 Corinthians 5:12‑13)).” Now this divine competency remains unchanged. Nay, it is binding on the saints. The Lord holds them responsible for this. The thought has occurred to some, “Is not this putting out from the body, if we are gathered together as such, that is, on such a ground?” I reply, it is not. Scripture makes no difficulty in the matter whatever; it says “from among yourselves,” not “from the body” — which could not be done. Otherwise there would be no means left to exclude evil from the midst of the two or three when gathered together in the name of the Lord Jesus. The idea is so contrary to all that we know of Him who has said, “Holiness becometh thy house forever.”
The Apostle addresses to the Corinthians this responsibility, binding it upon “all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours (1 Cor. 1:22Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours: (1 Corinthians 1:2)); recognizing them (1 Cor. 12:2727Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. (1 Corinthians 12:27)) as gathered together on the ground and principles of the one body of Christ; and unless we can remove that Scripture (1 Cor. 5) from the word of God, the divine competency and authority for this remains unchanged.1
What Scripture teaches is the competency and duty of each assembly to carry out its own discipline, under the Lord, who has promised His presence and guidance in the matter. “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” I am sure that when two or three, meeting in godliness and truth, come to a decision before the Lord in cases of discipline, that it is owned of the Lord, and the person who is the subject of it will never get comfort till he bows to it.
What is mistaken for, or put forth as, the cutting off of assemblies, &c., is, that when persons by a certain course of action, have put themselves practically outside the unity of the Spirit, by a course or action subversive to foundation truth, they have ceased to be guided by the Spirit of God. Assemblies, which are walking in the truth and unity of the Spirit, are forced to recognize the act of those who have slipped away. But the act is that of persons who have slipped away, not that of those who have discovered it, and refuse to slip away after them. They have cut themselves off, and put themselves out of the unity of the Spirit.
Then, an act of discipline done in any assembly walking in godliness and truth, is to be recognized most surely by every other likewise, to the ends of the earth. A person outside of one is outside of all. Do we suppose that when Corinth put out the wicked person (1 Cor. 5) from their midst, according to God’s mind, that Ephesus, &c., would not have accepted the act? Would Ephesus have re-opened and re-judged the case? Certainly not. Ephesus accepted the act of Corinth.
It is the habit of individuals, too, at times, of passing judgment upon the acts of an assembly. Upon this I would simply say, that the two or three gathered in truth and holiness have the promise of a faithful Lord to guide them in questions requiring united decision. The individual has not this promise for his guidance, be he ever so gifted in divine wisdom in the things of God. How could he expect to have the Lord’s promise to guide him individually in cases where a united judgment is required, and which has the Lord’s sanction and promise of guidance in the assembly?
It has been stated that “Its (the Church’s) PLACE, as a corporate witness of the ‘manifold wisdom of God,’ is lost. Its manifested UNITY has given place to every kind of division. Its ORDER is a scandal. Its AUTHORITY, which depended upon these other features being maintained, is, à fortiori, gone too. Its power of GOVERNMENew Testament necessarily has been forfeited.” As to the first, the remark is true — The candlestick (that is, a light for others) has been removed. But it is to “Principalities and powers in heavenly places,” it is a witness of “the manifold wisdom of God” — not to the world. This has not been lost. As to the third it is too true likewise.
As to the fourth and fifth, the statements have not the least foundation in Scripture. The authority was given long after its manifested unity was gone, and never depended upon it in anywise. In fact, its manifested unity was gone soon after Acts 2, 7. The earthly order at Jerusalem was broken up at the martyrdom of Stephen (Acts 7-8). The Church was the body of Christ, and acting as such, before it knew it was so, and before the conversion of Saul (Acts 9), the instrument through whom it was revealed. Even then its “manifested unity” was well nigh gone.
Besides this, in the very epistle to the Corinthians, where the authority of the discipline of the assembly is given (1 Corinthians 5) and bound upon “All that call upon Jesus Christ, our Lord, both theirs and ours,” we find the manifest unity did not exist, for they were saying, “I of Paul,” &c., so that its authority never depended upon its manifested oneness.
In this epistle (1 Corinthians), too, we have no mention of elders, or office-bearers of any kind, but we have the principle taught us of submission to those who guide the conscience of the assembly through the ministry of the word (what an elder would have done), as to the course to be observed. It is, I doubt not, given in this epistle, where no elders are found or noticed, as a resource for times of failure, and when no apostolically appointed elders exist.
I beseech you, brethren (ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the first-fruits of Achaia, and that they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints), that ye submit yourselves unto such, and to every one that helpeth us, and laboureth (1 Cor. 16:15,1615I beseech you, brethren, (ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints,) 16That ye submit yourselves unto such, and to every one that helpeth with us, and laboreth. (1 Corinthians 16:15‑16)).
I am sure that an individual divinely gifted with wisdom, maybe used of the Lord to guide the conscience of the assembly in cases requiring such, or in cases where an assembly might have acted mistakenly and needs to correct its action, but this without even doing more than guiding the conscience aright. It is the assembly which acts before the Lord, not individuals for the assembly, which in principle would be Popery.
Before closing this note, I would mention the tendency of confounding things which differ, that is, the act of “putting out” from an assembly with that of refusing to “let in” or receive that which is not suited to the Lord’s presence, or of the Spirit of God. It is a common thing for those who have not been admitted amongst those in the fellowship of the Spirit of God, to talk of it as if they had been “excommunicated.” Such should remember that they must first have been “within,” to be the subjects of such an action, had it become necessary. Refusing to admit them because of their being a bar to their fellowship with the saints, as in the unity of the Spirit of God, is a very different action from that of putting them out. In one case, they were outside; in the other, they must have been within.)
It is a fine saying of Paul, in 2 Corinthians 13:88For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth. (2 Corinthians 13:8), “For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth.” Blessed thought, that God permits us — poor weak things in ourselves — to be for the truth in this world. The working of our own restless wills hinders this betimes; as far as we ourselves are concerned; and hinders others with whom we may come into contact. We hinder our own growth up to Christ, and our increase through the knowledge of God, as well as, perhaps, disturbing simple, true-hearted souls. Yet with all this restless striving, “we can do nothing against the truth.” There it stands in all the beauty of its own perfection — unhindered and unmarred by all our strivings. How blessed it is to be for it in our course here below. To cast into it the energies of our hearts and witness for it. ‘Tis thus we make “straight paths for our own feet,” and those who are lame souls, weak in the faith, are “healed,” by beholding our firm conscious tread in the truth of God. They are thus encouraged to go on firmly, rather than “turn out of the way.” God is glorified and Christ magnified (wondrous word!) by the firm walk of a truehearted disciple standing for the truth, by the grace of the Lord, in this evil world.
May the Lord bless my reader, and give him the single eye, and confirm and strengthen him in that which alone will keep his feet steady in the perilous times of the last days. Paul, when he had given the characters of things in the last days (2 Tim. 3:1-91This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. 2For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, 4Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; 5Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. 6For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, 7Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. 8Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith. 9But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto all men, as theirs also was. (2 Timothy 3:1‑9)), turns at once the mind of the disciple upon those things which alone would keep him at such a time. When he had departed from iniquity in a great house of Christendom (2 Tim. 2:1919Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity. (2 Timothy 2:19)); and purged himself from the vessels to dishonor (vs. 21); and having fled from youthful lusts, was following righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with those who had likewise purged themselves — He turns the faithful disciples heart to what we find enumerated in 2 Timothy 3:10-1710But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience, 11Persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me. 12Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. 13But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived. 14But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; 15And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. (2 Timothy 3:10‑17). They are in their large features, three in number, namely —
1. “My doctrine”;
2. The Scriptures; and
3. The Person of Christ, as an object of faith. Have we then Paul’s doctrine? If so, we have that which, with the Scriptures which were completed by it, and the Person of the Christ of God, will keep us in the pathway of truth in the evil day, through the grace which an ever faithful Lord supplies.
Appendix.
The principle2 in the confusion around is, Matthew 18:2020For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:20). “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” But this principle cannot be pleaded and sought as a ground of coming together to the rejection of the truth of the unity of the Spirit, in the body of Christ. To come together pleading the promise of Matthew 18:2020For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:20), and at the same time to disown the ground of the body of Christ, is indeed impossible. This promise was given before there was any failure; it is a fundamental principle; and the resource to faith, when the outward manifestations of the one body of Christ, by the oneness of its members (as in Acts 2-4) has failed. Faith in the unity of the Spirit, in the body of Christ as existing here on the earth, is what we need the more. And then, when we cannot restore the state of things, in Acts 2-4., through the oneness of the members of the body, we have the principle3 “where two or three,” &c., as the resource; and to be counted upon by faith. Still, the Spirit of God gathers together the two or three faithful disciples, on the ground of this unity; and on no other. Of course when there is ignorance of the principle of one body and one Spirit, the promise of Matthew 18:2020For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matthew 18:20), has been looked for, and the faithful have rejoiced in the faithfulness of the Lord; and have found His presence in their midst. But to press this principle, to the disowning of one body and one Spirit, now that this truth has been made known, would be indeed to err. It needs but little discernment to see, that the Spirit of God constitutes the body in unity, which therefore exists here in the world by virtue of His presence; and He Himself would he disowning this, did He gather disciples apart from the principle of one body, and on any other ground.
The thought here strikes one, how solemn is the position of those who have attempted to set up another table claiming to be the Lord’s (sad to say, this has in some cases been done), and gather together another assembly, in a place where an assembly has been already gathered on the ground of the body; and where the Lord’s Table has been already spread, as in the communion of the body of Christ. If done in true-hearted ignorance, well — the Lord bears with such in patient grace, and instructs those who have a single eye. Nothing can justify such an act. Nothing would alter the principle of those who are already gathered on the ground of one body of Christ, unless there was an acceptance of something in their midst of that which touched upon the foundation truths of Christian faith, such as anything touching on the person or glory of Christ, or the acceptance of a line of action which would show an indifference on such a subject, or would be a denial of the truth of one body and one Spirit.
One has to bear with mistakes, and to seek, if we have grace for it, and with patience, to bring our brethren aright, if they have erred in judgment. But unless an assembly accept as the line of its action anything which would be subversive of the foundation truths of faith, it has its claim on me as an assembly of God. To set up another, is to break practically, as far as I can, the unity of the Spirit, which I am exhorted to keep. If we have grace for it, let us labor, Nehemiah-like, to bring our brethren into the consciousness of their position, that they may walk worthy of the Lord to all pleasing, and be fruitful in every good work, and thus grow through the knowledge of God, and not by any act of ours reader confusion more confounded.
 
1. While on this question of the competency of the saints, under the Lord s authority, to carry out the discipline of the assembly, I add a note: We hear of such expressions as cutting off assemblies ——assemblies at one place legislating for another. Naturally such thoughts must make souls shrink back in fear. There is no power in Scripture for one assembly cutting off another; nor is there power for one assembly legislating for another, in any wise. There was at one time divinely-given apostolic power and authority for the latter. (See Acts 15; 16, &c.) Such was only when apostles were here, not otherwise.
2. “Resource,” I would rather say, than “principle.” The ever-abiding principle of the Church’s existence here is, One body, and one Spirit.” Separation from evil is faithfulness to its nature, as to Christ, whose body it is.
3. (See footnote 9, which was applied here also in the original.}